Selecting and Framing Art
HELP! What If I Choose the "Wrong" Art?
How many times have I heard that cry? The common presumption is that there is only one "correct" answer for the selection of art, and that anything else would be "wrong". Not true.
It helps to remember that art is first and foremost a window to the soul of the artist who created it. It is not about fashion or trends. It is your glimpse at the world through the eyes of the artist. If you resonate with that image, then it is right for you.
Don't listen to stuffy advice and "pat" answers on how to select art. Your choices will, and should be, as individual as you are. Never settle for anything to which you cannot personally relate.
Art on the walls enhances interior design by bringing instant impact, and your unique personality, to any room. Whether your taste (or wallet) runs to one-of-a-kind paintings, prints, or drawings, or to mass-produced posters, what hangs on your walls expresses just who lives in this home.
So what will it be? Grandma's quilt? A Michelangelo drawing? Your first-grader's school project? All priceless. All valid.
Good art can appear in many forms. I know someone who adores tomatoes. Anything and everything having to do with tomatoes thrills her. On her desk (in her law office) is a huge tomato can filled with pens and pencils. She simply went nuts over the opulent "imported tomato" graphics on the label - huge, juicy, red pomodori on vivid green vines, against a bold yellow background, with a stunning black and blue logo. It really is a sensational piece of graphics. I suggested that she hunt down a couple more exciting tomato cans, remove the labels with care, then mat and frame them - a powerful, humorous, and personality-rich wall grouping. Art can cost pennies.
Decide What's Right For You.
"Fine Art", that is, original paintings, limited edition prints, and photographs, have intrinsic as well as investment value.
Prices vary, of course, but all Fine Art appreciates in value over time, allowing for the luxury and daily joy of living with the 'real thing'.
If investing in original works is not for you, you can still live with great art in its mass-printed form. Beautiful reproductions are available at incredibly reasonable prices. Well matted and handsomely framed, there is no reason why anybody with a passion for art has to live with bare walls! The huge Gauguin poster hanging in my powder room underscores this happy fact.
"Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth"
How Do I Decide WHERE to hang my pictures?
To help you to answer this question, try the following exercise:
Pick up a current favorite interior decorating magazine, and open it to one of the rooms featured. Spend a few minutes observing the room (note: it needn't be one you particularly like…any "finished" room will do).
Now go down this list:
- Look at the furniture - the color and placement. Describe it.
- Is there a fireplace in this room? What does it look like?
- What color are the walls? Paint? Wallpaper?
- What color is the ceiling? Are the ceilings high? Low?
- Are there prominent architectural mouldings and finishings?
- If not, what do the mouldings look like?
- Describe the floor.
- Are there area rugs? What are they like? What color?
- What is the lighting like in this room?
- Are the sources of light visible? Describe them.
- Is there a predominating room color? A secondary color?
- Is there art on the walls? What does it look like and where is it placed?
- Describe the frames. Do they match or is there a variety?
- Would YOU have hung these pictures in this room?
- Does the choice of these pictures surprise you?
- In your opinion, do the frames show off the art well?
- Do the pictures (and/or any other items hanging on the walls) create a pleasing composition in the room?
The purpose here is not to prove that the room, as shown, is "correct". Nor is it "wrong". This is merely a consciousness-raising exercise to increase your powers of observation, to make you aware of the importance of balance and composition in your room. There is never only one "right" solution.
Staying focused on your magazine room, place a scrap of paper (or a cough drop - anything handy and small) over the pictures on the walls - just enough to block them from view. Look at the room "without" the pictures. Do you like it as well as before? Chances are, the room will seem out of "sync" without them, demonstrating the importance of striking this balance in your own rooms.
Once aware, this will become second nature, and the "mystery" of where the art should be hung will begin to fade.
Repeat this exercise as you look at other finished rooms in the magazine, and observe how integral the art and accessories are in the room's over-all balance.
We will re-address the placement of art in your room(s) in next month's Newsletter. For now, just observe professionally designed spaces, and get a sense of how the art relates to everything else in the room.
"I hate flowers. I only paint them because they're cheaper than
models and they don't move."
- Georgia O'Keefe
When is non-art ART?
I was amused, watching "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" one evening, when Thom Felicia, the resident interior design maven of the show, framed several rectangles of simple, brightly colored wrapping papers, in lieu of spending budget-money on actual art. He hung the framed "pictures" at eye level along one large wall. The wrapping paper itself was cheap and un-interesting. But the way in which Felicia used it - as bold, graphic, color-spots to move the eye around the room and to anchor the composition, ended up being extremely exciting. Ultimately, the "art" was not what hung on the wall; the art was the room itself.
So as devoted as I am to Fine Art and the artists who create it, there is no one right or wrong way to approach your room design with regards to wall décor. Whether you plan to frame some wrapping paper or hang that priceless Winslow Homer that's been in the family for generations, you are dealing with the same principle, that of balance and composition.
The main difference to consider is this: in the example above, the wrapping paper "color spots" serve the décor of the room. On the other hand, when hanging an original masterwork, it is imperative that the room serves and enhances the art.
I generally recommend considering what piece(s) will be hanging in a room (especially if it is an original work) before we begin the design of that room. This way we can gauge our color and fabric choices to play up the artwork, and not fight it. This does not mean that we will be matching colors to the painting (a common faux pas in interior design…). It's a matter of calculating just what materials and colors we can use to allow the art to be the focal point of the room.
Unless you are working with a trusted designer, keep it simple. And, by all means, unless you want your livingroom to end up looking like the lobby of the Ramada Inn, don't attempt to match fabrics to the colors in your art. Think "mix", not "match"!
If there is no art in your life at the moment, and your preference is to wait until the main furnishings are in place before you decide, that's fine. When the time comes to make your selection(s), the same principles will apply.
Frame it YOURSELF?
There are those stalwart souls who would prefer to tackle the job of framing their art themselves.
To them I wish good luck (glad it's not me), a lot of free time, a steady hand, sharp tools (measure thrice, cut once), and the patience of a saint. And, to them I hand this advice: Do it perfectly, or don't do it at all.
If you are one of those who is un-daunted by that counsel, go for it. A simple, beveled mat is quite do-able. For the jobs requiring multiple mats (or more), the job is best left to the ones who have the machinery. There are many good books on the subject of framing, which will guide you to the proper tools, materials and techniques.
As for posters and mass-produced reproductions, many of the companies who sell this art also offer good-looking and price-appropriate framing. Look into it!
A couple of major disappointments taught me (by way of the wallet) that all custom framers are not equal.
How naïve I was to believe that taste and integrity went with the custom framer's territory. Wrong I was. I have learned that inept framers charge as much for their services as the competent ones do.
So, Caveat Number One: Obtain reliable referrals for framers from trustworthy sources, such as respected galleries or museums. Once at the frameshop, ask to see several examples of their work. Be sure you are happy with what you see.
Professional custom framing is not inexpensive. It is a time-consuming and exacting profession - one might even say, art. The materials used can be costly, and you will be paying for all of this. But what a joy it is to behold a gorgeously framed work of art!
However, design and richness are actually secondary considerations in framing your art. The primary function of a frame is to protect the artwork from over-handling and exposure to the environment.
Oil paintings are usually not placed under glass, but once again the frame itself serves as protection.
Works of art on paper, of course, need to be placed under glass. It is very important to specify that acid-free materials be used in the framing process. A nasty condition called "Foxing" can be the unhappy and irreversible result of not using acid-free, archival-quality materials. "Foxing" is a rusty looking blotch caused by the high acid content present in poor materials.
In some cases it may be necessary to consider using acrylic in place of glass on extremely large and heavy works. Glass itself is heavy, dangerously so, on very large pieces, making hanging it a liability. Before going forward with glass, be sure that the appointed wall where it will be hung can support the weight. The "down-side" of acrylic is that it tends to produce static electricity which not only attracts dust and dirt, it can also "magnetically" pull particles of charcoal or pastel from the artwork. All this said, it is better than flying glass shards from a crash. You make the decision.
Non-glare glass is another option which comes with pros and cons. It seems practical enough, especially if the art is intended to be hung in a high-glare zone. But be aware that it tends to flatten out colors. A definite "no-no" when it comes to Fine Art. Use regular glass and hang your originals in a place where glare is not an issue.
If you do seek out a qualified pro (the one for whom you have obtained a referral, and examples of whose work you have viewed), he/she will be able to advise you regarding mat size, style, color, frame style and finish. Your interior designer will also weigh in here, as there is probably an intention on his/her part for the art to fulfill a particular purpose in the room.
That being said, the following are some basic guidelines to familiarize you with some of the choices you will be making at the framer's:
The generally agreed upon mat proportion for a picture is 3" at the sides, 3" at the top, and 4" at the bottom. The important point here is that the mat should always be that much wider at the bottom. It's just more pleasing to the eye that way. The actual width can and should vary, depending on the size of the art and the desired effect. I am fond of over-sized mats, but don't go overboard!
Wide mats force the attention on the art, giving it "breathing room", therefore are ideal on extremely small pictures (miniatures, for example) which could get "lost" on the wall if framed with a narrow mat.
Single beveled mat? Single reverse-beveled mat? Double mat? One color? Two? Double mat with spacer? Beveled mat with fillet?
The choices go on and on.
You will be confronted with many varieties of mats. The more labor and materials, the higher the cost. Often simplest is best, but there are times when a double mat will do wonders for the art, or an extra thick beveled mat and spacer put the piece right into "sensational". Ask to see lots of possibilities and take it from there.
Simple, tailored, linear? Gold-leaf Baroque shadowbox?
Yes, and everything in-between!
Generally speaking, it's a good idea to choose a frame which is darker than the mat. There are exceptions, of course. But the decision to use a frame which is lighter than the mat, is better left to a professional interior designer. If not done deftly, it can end up having a strange, fluorescent look in your room.
Whatever you choose, buy quality. Nothing ruins a work of art faster than a cheap, poorly constructed frame.
Once again, when in doubt, keep it simple. If you are the adventurous type, follow your instincts. But always remember, the frame should present the art beautifully, never fight with it.
Always remember Caveat Number Two: When framing original art which you deem to have value, always ask for "conservation framing". This will keep the piece safe for a long time, whether you plan to preserve it as an heirloom, or to keep it in good shape for re-sale at a later date.
Lastly, Caveat Number Three: To avoid any misunderstandings, always ask for a written agreement from your framer, clearly stating the agreed-upon price, and the expected completion date. In addition, ask the framer to jot down the style of matting, the mat colors (including names and style #'s), the frame style (and #'s), and so on.
This practice will ultimately benefit both you and your framer. We are all so busy doing a million things that it is easy to forget exactly what you chose, and the price which was quoted!
Now that your art has been beautifully framed, it's time for the FUN PART… transforming your room(s) by hanging those gorgeous pictures!
- Karen Saloomey
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